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Moisture abundance and proximity mediate seasonal use of mesic areas and survival of greater sage-grouse broods

December 26, 2022
  1. Water is a critical and limited resource, particularly in the arid West, but water availability is projected to decline even while demand increases due to growing human populations and increases in duration and severity of drought. Mesic areas provide important water resources for numerous wildlife species, including the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter, sage-grouse), an indicator for the health of sagebrush ecosystems. Understanding how wildlife use these crucial areas is necessary to inform management and conservation of sensitive species. Specifically, the influence of anthropogenic water subsidies such as irrigated pastures is not well-studied.

  2. We evaluated brood-rearing habitat selection and brood survival of sage-grouse in Long Valley, California, an area where the water rights are primarily owned by the city of Los Angeles and water is used locally to irrigate for livestock. This area thus represents a unique balance between the needs of wildlife and people that could increasingly define future water management.

  3. In this study, sage-grouse broods moved closer to the edge of mesic areas and used more interior areas during the late brood-rearing period, selecting for greener areas after 1 July. Mesic areas were particularly important during dry years, with broods using areas farther interior than in wet years. Brood survival was also positively influenced by the availability and condition of mesic resources, as indicated by variation in values of normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), with survival peaking at moderate values of NDVI and just outside the edge but decreasing inside the mesic areas.

  4. Our results highlight the importance of quality edge habitat of large mesic areas for sage-grouse to balance habitat selection and survival, particularly during drier years and during the late brood-rearing period, which is a critical period because chick survival has been shown to influence population growth.

  5. This study highlights the implications of large-scale anthropogenic water manipulation, and the balance between local irrigation and water distribution to benefit other regions, from the context of a species of high conservation concern in North American sagebrush ecosystems.

Publication Year 2022
Title Moisture abundance and proximity mediate seasonal use of mesic areas and survival of greater sage-grouse broods
DOI 10.1002/2688-8319.12194
Authors John P. Severson, Peter S. Coates, Megan C. Milligan, Shawn T. O'Neil, Mark A. Ricca, Steve C. Abele, John D. Boone, Michael L. Casazza
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Solutions and Evidence
Index ID 70239082
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center; Forest and Rangeland Ecosys Science Center; Western Ecological Research Center